On Sept. 30, I had the honor of celebrating my son’s bar mitzvah. I relished every second of sharing this Jewish milestone with my family and friends and “kvelled” at what a wonderful young man my son is growing up to be. I walked on air the entire week later, feeling euphoric in a way I hadn’t in a long time.
And then, on Oct. 7, exactly one week later, Hamas attacked Israel, and everything changed.
At his service, my son spoke about his late great-grandfather, who was a Holocaust survivor, and acknowledged the magnitude of what this means to our family.
Before our son had a bar mitzvah, my husband and I felt it was important to fully educate him about the Holocaust and the suffering the Jewish faith has endured. Since he is a voracious reader, we had him delve into “Number the Stars” and “White Bird.”
We watched “Schindler’s List” with him, hiding our eyes and gasping with fright and disbelief that the story was not the invention of a Hollywood writer but an actuality.
We shared the Shoah Foundation testimony of his great-grandfather, who survived the Holocaust while enduring treacherous conditions working as a Jewish doctor in the Warsaw Ghettos and then as a prisoner in the Mauthausen concentration camp in Poland.
My son’s curious mind struggled with the fathomability of the Holocaust. Not surprisingly, he had many questions, many of which were impossible to answer fully. How could such an atrocity occur just 90 years ago? Why did no one stop Hitler?
And the one question I struggled with most: How could the United States stay silent and idle while 6 million innocent lives were decimated solely because of religion?
I explained that times were different then: there was no internet or social media. People were genuinely not as aware of what was going on outside their own communities.
I reminded him about the aftermath of the George Floyd murder, when all the lawns in town, regardless of race or religion, became filled with Black Lives Matter signs, and our social media flooded with postings of support. I promised him that the world we live in today was a world that advocates against injustice, a world intolerant of hate.
In the last few weeks, I feel like a liar. Perhaps I was naive in my conviction to my son that the world had, in fact, changed. In the wake of the Hamas attacks, I find myself questioning my promise to him that history would not repeat itself.
Even though Israel is many miles away, as Jews, we look into the eyes of those children kidnapped and think, those could be my children. The concertgoers, dancing without a care in the world, could have easily been my friends.
Yet the silence and attempted justification of Hamas’ actions by much of the world is profound and disturbing. Even worse is the considerable amount of antisemitism that is going on, as if we set the clock back a century.
Understandably, many do want to speak out but are afraid to, given the backlash against some of those willing to take a stand. Some people feel torn about whether to place an Israeli flag on their front lawn out of fear of being victimized and targeted. A friend told me that she didn’t feel safe traveling with an identifiable Jewish last name and that I was lucky that my last name didn’t sound Jewish.
And yet another friend was stopped on the streets of New York, a city known as the melting pot of America, and harassed just because he “looked” Jewish.
Further, it is heartbreaking to read stories about so many universities that have failed to denounce Hamas’ acts or have not condemned professors praising the attacks due to fear of driving donors away. If the professors we hold to the highest esteem are teaching hate to the next generation, then how can we ever expect peace and acceptance to be learned?
Granted, the Middle East conflict is complex. But regardless of one’s thoughts surrounding it, there is no justification for Hamas’ acts of terrorism and the kidnapping and coldblooded murder of innocent people, with the sole goal of eliminating the state of Israel and the Jewish people.
A moment I will never forget from my son’s bar mitzvah service was when my 10-year-old daughter sang “Shalom Rav” while my son accompanied her on the piano. Her melodious voice filled the synagogue with the following words: “Shalom rav al Yisrael am’cha tasim l’olam.” I sat in awe, watching my children work together and perform this beautiful song in tandem. At the time, no one paid any attention to what the Hebrew transliteration was.
But now, the song and that sacred moment take on a whole new meaning, more significant than I could imagine at the time. The words my daughter sang so gloriously translate to mean, “Grant abundant peace unto Israel your people forever.”
From her lips to God’s ears.
We need to do better. After all, I made a promise to my son that today’s world is different, and I don’t want to be a liar.
SARA ROBBIN is a mother of two who graduated from Cornell University and Emory Law School. After practicing law, she was a legal writing professor at Fordham Law School. She is now a freelance writer and editor and assists students with college and private school essays. This has appeared elsewhere and is reprinted with the writer’s permission.